Grow back Greener

So a gazillion of crony coins down the gizzard of the gluttonous corrupt through the great global heist that was World’s response to the pandemic and we are left to ask what can we do now?  Ecological breakdown looms large, the fraying of supply chains, the disruption of innovation.  Is the world ready to be ruled by robots and should we all just as a species do our bit by slowly dying off, leaving the world to Silicon?  There may be better solutions.

Build make Better has been a choice phrase that has swept the globe on the back of the pandemic, a better slogan might be Grow back Greener. When the Chancellor is planning to launch Green Gilts by the never never and force companies to pay lip service to a squint and partial view of their impact on the planet in a similar time frame we look out upon the economic deck and say well, the deckchairs do look a little better like that.

What is disruption with jobs? What is disruption that heals with added resilience?  These are the real questions. 

If we are looking a mitigating the impact of fossil fuel consumption and also faced with the upheaval of leaving the EU, one obvious place to begin is with agricultural subsidies. With plants, not Plant.

Of course it not just our industrial system that is causing ecological collapse, it is our agriculture too.  A shift from chemical intensive agriculture to labour intensive permaculture, combined with information and system management through consumer electronics like the Arduino could provide jobs, habitat and food system resilience in the face of changing climate and uncertain supply chains.

An organic or pesticide free system would also reduce the health problems associated with farm work.  Much of the work would be outdoors and contribute to the health of the people in the job in a way that few occupations do in Britain today.

With better management of agricultural waste, corn husks, turnip tops and an integrated approach to livestock management, monocultural intensive agriculture could be transformed into systemically sensitive integrated permaculture, or syntropy.  Indeed, the production of ethanol from agricultural waste could also be used to offset fossil fuels in energy supply.

With £3 billion on the table in terms of farm subsidies, this is could be targeted, not at Grouse moor entertainment that causes flooding, pollution and reduces the UKs climate resilience for the benefit of enriching a handful of large landowners, but at increasing the habitat for a wide range of animals, providing jobs that agree with innate human wellsprings and enriching food crop diversity and resilience.  The capital required to create permaculture farms could be subsidised, and once the investments where made, the ecological control that would result would greatly increase the UK’s ability to maintain food production in a changing climate.

The range of benefits from a permaculture revolution in the world’s agriculture are so great even the UNFAO has woken up to them.

ENERGY

To move away from fossil fuels and still keep the lights requires a huge transformation that can form the backbone of any green new deal.  The UK has several advantages on this front.  One is a set of natural batteries in the form of Scottish Lochs that can provide hydropower.  An extensive windpower resource.  An unexploited technology possible in wave power and huge potential in tidal power, that if built intelligently will increase in power as sea levels rise.  There is also a boon from the UKs legacy of deep mining in form of relatively low cost geothermal power from the use of mine water, in Cornwall and across the North of England. All these are capital and labour intensive transition industries.

Oil and gas themselves, if we move away from the idea of simply burning them, provide part of the solution.  Methane (CH4) could provide a feedstock for the hydrogen and graphene industries.  Longer chain hydrocarbons could of course also be processed in this way. Carbon is the basic building block of nature and can be used to transform cement production from a climate hazard to a climate mitigation industry.

The same might be said for transport.  There is a zombie legion of destructive machines that are fuelled on hydrocarbons and fuelling our extinction. Transitioning this legacy will be an incredibly labour intensive process.  But a program of refitting similar to the previous “scrappage” programmes, converting legacy vehicles to new energy systems, electric or fuel cell, would make the UK a world leader in a range of modern technical skills. If we extended this program to aircraft, converting all aircraft to fuel cells, or making the Heathrow or Gatwick’s new runway hydrogen only then it would address almost a quarter of UK emissions (15% for transport 8% for air travel) that would otherwise be a millstone.

Any investment in Nuclear would be most safely spent on the development of Thorium reactors.  This is a proven technology that has the advantage that we do not replace the existential threat of climate with the existential threat of nuclear weapons. Thorium is not subject to catastrophic meltdown and again, would be a desirable revolutionary technology in which, with concentrated investment, the UK could take a global lead.

If these transitions can be funded not by Gilts or guilt, but by equity investment in the future then the ultimate carrying cost and path to profitability will be quicker. Indeed, we could, in the spirit of Thatcher and Bakunin, provide the general population with an equity stake in all these ventures, creating a new social contract.  A sense of shared wealth and future through common equity ownership of the transformative technology and offsetting the need for the exchequer to resource unemployed citizens through welfare payments.

The dividends, in every sense, from such a transformation would be very great indeed.
    

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